Year 1: What we learned and what we didn’t

Hey.

So that happened. The first year is over. If you follow any of my social media accounts (or all of them), then you know I DNF’d IM Louisville. If you subscribe to our new triathlon-ish newsletter, then you kind of already read about my thoughts. I don’t know that I have a ton more to say. BTW, I’m doing a weekly triathlon-ish newsletter about triathlon (duh) and endurance sports and whatever I want it to be about. You should subscribe.

I’ve thought a lot about it. I’ve thought so much about it I have nothing left to say about it.

Continue reading “Year 1: What we learned and what we didn’t”

Week 30: Santa Cruz is pretty too I guess

Warning: There is a gross picture at the bottom of what my screwed up feet look like after all this racing. I was just going to post it at the top here because #realtalk, but trigger warning, you guys.

I raced Santa Cruz 70.3 (formerly Big Kahuna) yesterday, mostly because Steve was racing it and I’d already be there and I needed to get a big weekend in for Louisville in five weeks. But holy shit I wasn’t excited about it.

Continue reading “Week 30: Santa Cruz is pretty too I guess”

Week 7: Oceanside 70.3

There was a moment on Saturday when I was running out of the water into transition. Usually, transitions are my specialty. Usually, I move quickly and make up time on other athletes. But Saturday morning, I was running flat-out, going as hard as I could down the cement along the edge of the water, past all the people still lined up to start, and I could not close on the two girls in front of me. And I thought, ‘This is a different race.’

Then, I basically kept thinking that for the next four hours. The pro race is a different race.

Continue reading “Week 7: Oceanside 70.3”

Happy Anniversary to Me: A Double Race Weekend

It’s been a year since I started with Hillary. A year of training hard and getting faster, almost like that’s how it’s supposed to work. Naturally, it was fitting that I marked the anniversary with a double race weekend — not this past weekend but the one before that: Pacific Grove Triathlon on Saturday, Dipsea on Sunday.

Why am I writing about two weekends ago? Because it turns out when you do two races in 24 hours, the odds of you getting super sick are pretty high.

Here is the only tip I have about doing two races back to back: don’t think about it; also do the one you really care about first. There were a total of three times I thought about it the whole weekend:

  • when I needed to spin on my bike after PacGrove instead of laying on the ground
  • when I tried to warm-up the morning of the Dipsea and was like: oooooooooh, ouch
  • during the last 15 minutes of the Dipsea, when my brain was just way too tired to navigate the stairs and singletrack at any kind of speed; the expression on my face pretty much sums up my feelings at that point:

dipsea stairs

There are no pictures from Pacific Grove, which sort of sucks, so here is a story instead.

My secret goal was to break the course record. 2:14:36. It’s five minutes faster than I’ve ever gone here, and Pacific Grove is very dependent on conditions, but I still thought I could possibly do it. I ended up missing by 10 seconds, but, well, it’s a long story.

I won it in the swim. FYI. I buried myself in that swim. First time ever actually drafting off the front woman’s feet worked. And then suddenly I was in first and there was a kayak leading me. And when I hit the water for a second lap, everything hurt. Holy shit. But I managed to hang in and came out only 5 seconds back from first — who was a collegiate swimmer! This is basically insane.

The bike wasn’t awesome. Neither was the run. But both were good enough. I actually got very down on myself after the first bike lap because I wasn’t going as fast as I wanted. Or, rather, because I was “sucking.” But then I decided I was still opening up a slight gap on the women behind me, so I couldn’t be sucking too much. I ended up biking a tiny bit faster than the fastest I’ve ever gone here (which I’ve never even been close to since that one time) and I got the Strava QOM, so that’s how you know it really counts.

I glanced at my watch as I hit the run. All I needed to do was run a 42 to get the record. Easy. No problem. And I was pretty sure I was in first. But as I started, there was a girl running with me, from my age group. Which I thought was weird, because I hadn’t seen her, and I assumed she had skipped a lap on the bike. (It happens a lot here.) But then she was running the same speed as me, so she probably isn’t new? So she probably knows what she’s doing? So then I decided I’d just have to beat her. But I couldn’t. I’d gap her and think it was done and then she’d come back on me, and then I’d catch her and pass her again. And even though, when I glanced at my watch, I objectively knew I was capable of running faster, I just could not run faster. And she pulled away from me in that last lap and I couldn’t close. So many side stitches, so many cramps, oh well, I was just going to break the record, but end up losing by 8 seconds or whatever.

Then when I turned into the finish, she turned to start another lap of the run. I waved at her and pointed. I really felt bad. I thought she had beaten me, but I’d end up technically winning because she was confused. Somewhere there is a picture of me looking chagrined as I break the tape.

(Of course, it turned she was confused because she thought it was four laps on the run and she’d only done three on the bike. It’s really three on the run and four on the bike. So yeah.)

Now, I looked at the clock when I came around that last turn and I was pretty sure between that and my watch that I had gone 2:14:2x. I was sort of surprised, then, when the official results said my time was 2:14:46 — ten seconds off the course record. After a lot of time, here’s my theory on what happened: As I crossed the finish, I started to lay down, but somewhere in my head I thought, ‘no, you need to cross the timing mats.’ I sort of stumbled across one of them and then veered sideways and sat down against the barricade. After 15-20 seconds, I stood up to go talk to the girl who I’d been running with. And it seems likely my chip didn’t actually register on one of the timing mat until that point. Which is 1. obviously annoying and why wave starts are frustrating for overall places, and 2. a good reminder to STOP DOING THAT.

Then I spinned on my bike, drove home, ate a burrito, napped, packed up my stuff for the Dipsea, and was way too wired to fall asleep.

dipsea

The Dipsea was fine. At some point, it all starts to hurt anyway. And it’s not like I was going to win. I ran as hard as I could. I actually did the best I’ve ever done — 96th — and I was really excited when I was in 78th at the top of the hill. But then there’s maybe 20 minutes of running down stairs and singletrack that isn’t so much singletrack as it is running through bushes. And my brain was just not capable of dealing at that point. That was when I finally started to feel way too tired.

So I just ran as hard as I could when I could and then it was done. Which pretty much sums everything up for the last year anyway.

Race Report: Kaiser Half-Marathon

Short version: I ran 1:26:27 according to my watch and 1:26:29 according to the official results. Apparently, I was so out of it at the end that I came to a complete stop as I pressed “stop,” and then it took me an extra two seconds to walk all the way across the second timing mat and have my chip register. Either way, it’s a significant PR over 1:27:58 (which itself was a significant PR back in 2013). Evidently, I’m not just making up this ‘I swear I’m training a lot and getting faster’ thing. Continue reading “Race Report: Kaiser Half-Marathon”

DNFing v. Quitting

spartan - bucket

I’ve never been a big believer in the whole “death before DNF” attitude. Most of the time when people say they’ve never DNF’d a race, I’m pretty sure it’s just because they haven’t tried hard enough.

But I do understand the value in being able to tell yourself you never quit, especially at that time in a race when all you want to do is quit. It’s a tool. And I understand that sometimes the only thing you can do or take away from the day is not quitting.

The difference, of course, is that a DNF is earned. It’s what happens when there is no other option. Even the people who are able to push themselves nearly to death — and the vast majority of people are definitely not those people — have had to be pulled from the side of the road or taken to the hospital. Quitting, well, quitting is a choice, and it can happen even before you cross the finish line. Lots of people who don’t DNF basically quit anyway. (Uh, speaking from experience.)

It may say that we DNF’d the Spartan Race Ultra Beast last weekend, but we quit. And maybe that’s the part that’s been bothering me.

The Ultra Beast was a marathon-length obstacle race up in Tahoe as part of the Spartan Race World Championships weekend. It turned out it was really more like 31 miles in total. We made it through just under 16 of those miles.

Yeah, it was hard. Mostly it was really cold. At the top of the mountain, close to 9,000 feet, it was in the 20s and winds were around 30-40 mph. That sucked, but it was fine. And it sucked when we had to jump in the cold lake with our clothes on, but I kept telling myself we’d warm up. I’ve been cold getting out of the water before. The real problem was then, before we’d warmed up enough, we had to crawl/roll through a half-mile of barbed wire. Crawl, climb a wall, crawl, climb a wall, crawl, jump in another pit of water. The whole thing wasn’t keeping anyone’s body temperature up enough to stay warm. When I got to that pit of water, I must have looked bad — white and shaking, teeth chattering — because I was like, “Do I have to do this?” and the guy said I could skip it and do the penalty instead. He also asked if I was ok. I said, yeah, I was fine.

By the end of that section, I physically couldn’t climb the rope, my hands wouldn’t hold on.

spartan - peak

I warmed up eventually, and by the time we got down to the transition zone area, it was fine. But it was ugly. Mostly, I think there was an over-it-ness to everything. It was hard to do any of the obstacles, because our hands were so messed up. I fell off one rope onto my back. Everything hurt. But, if there’s one thing I’ve learned from Hillary it’s a very acute sense of exactly how “fine” I am when things are really, really awful.

So I couldn’t ignore the fact that I could have gone on. I put on dry, warm clothes. And I could have physically kept going, for at least some amount more. We just chose not to.

The guy who got second, Miguel, I interviewed for my school documentary back in the spring, and he talked to me at one point about this Spartan promo video, about how you have to want it, you have to want it more than you want to breathe.

I thought about this after the race. I definitely didn’t want it that much. We didn’t even want it enough to deal with all the trouble of not quitting.

I probably would not have made it to the finish line even if we hadn’t quit. I was already failing at obstacles I knew how to do easily, so it would have just turned into a burpee trudge. I would have been colder as it got later. I might have fallen on something really bad. Already, every time I was climbing up over the top of a really tall rope net or wall, and hit the wind, and could barely hold on, I would feel blown back, like I so easily was going to slip, break a leg, land on my head. So, yeah, I probably wouldn’t have finished. I might have gotten really hurt. It definitely was not worth it for something that was just supposed to be for fun. But it would have been an earned DNF.

Everyone keeps telling me it was a smart choice to quit. But you don’t really do do these kinds of things because you’re trying to make smart choices.

Race Report: Ironman Wisconsin

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This was the short version of Ironman Wisconsin. Here’s the long (seriously long) version:

When I wanted to do a fall Ironman, part of why I picked Wisconsin was that my parents live in Chicago and my aunt and uncle live in Madison. I spent a lot of holidays in Madison as a kid and knew it’d be a fun race. And, man, it was a lot of fun. But, on the other hand, when people keep saying ‘everything went right’ for me, I want to be like: Sure, the weather was great, the course is good for me, nothing too bad happened, and it all came together. But of course things went wrong. You just deal with it. That’s how it goes.

In classic fashion, some things had to go pretty wrong in the days before the race. I flew into Chicago on Thursday and then drove my mom’s car up to Wisconsin on Friday afternoon. The only problem was that I didn’t realize the driver’s door handle on her car doesn’t work right. Or, rather, I realized once I opened it at a rest stop somewhere outside Rockford, Illinois and then it wouldn’t close and latch again. I was fiddling with it, pulling it, pushing it, hitting it, and swearing. Nothing worked. Eventually, after about an hour, because I had to get to check-in by 5 p.m., I bungee-corded the door closed and drove the rest of the way with the car beeping to let me know it was still technically open. Yeah, thanks for that reminder.

I made it to check-in with 45 minutes to spare. But then things were so backed up with some to-do about missing gear bags, and I had a work thing I needed to finish (which was why I had stopped at a rest stop in Rockford anyway), that I just sat down in line and opened my computer. The second big problem was that my derailleur hangar had been weirdly loose that morning when I built my bike, so I stopped at the expo mechanic to see if they could check to make sure nothing was wrong. They spent an hour taking the derailleur on and off, fiddling with screws, trying to fine-tune the shifting, which they said wasn’t great, but I said was basically as good as it ever was. Until eventually they decided I probably needed to replace my whole cassette and chain. The day before the race. Uhhhhhhh. No?

Saturday, I went to the regular bike store, which was a really cool place btw, and they agreed the shifting was fiiiiiiiiine, but not great, and I shouldn’t replace all that stuff right before a big race. Then I bought a new aero bottle, because naturally I had ordered a missing part for my old aero bottle, but that part didn’t fit because the bottle was too old and now there was a new model. Naturally. I also hadn’t realized that it was going to be that cold in Madison, and I had packed no pants. So we had to make a trip to the thrift store across the street. Basically, I just kept handing people my money. And eating. And trying not to freak out about the fact that my stomach was NOT happy on Saturday.

My stomach was still not super happy Sunday morning. After dropping off all the different things in all the different places, I was down by the swim start in my baggy thrift store sweats, trying to swallow an Immodium, when all of a sudden I was throwing up off the side of the road median. I thought about that later, when I was in 2nd (spoiler alert) and the crowds were screaming for me. Because there were definitely some people in the morning who saw that and were not sure I was going to last the day.

From the local paper.
From the local paper.

 

The swim is still an old-school mass start, which is fun. But it was weirdly aggressive, more than I would have expected for an Ironman. I lined up near the buoys, but far enough on the inside that I wouldn’t be in the crush. I thought. And I swam hard at first to get slightly away from the crowds, but they never went away. The problem, really, was that I kept getting sandwiched between large guys. They’d come in on both sides of me and then try to just ignore the fact that I was there. I definitely threw some elbows and kicked some people. On the way back, it opened up a bit. I was swimming with a group of guys, and saw no women for 20-30 minutes. (It’s weird, when you think about it, how different the women’s race is from the men’s race. I never was by myself all day, not really. But if there had only been women in the race, I would have spent long, long amounts of time alone, which is what the front guys experience. It’s weird. That’s all. How different those two races, that are supposed to be the same, actually are.)

The swim seemed like it just went on and on and on, and I just wanted to be finished and I kept convincing myself that the next buoy was the last turn buoy, but it NEVER WAS. When we finally did get to the last turn buoy, I came around the corner and got kicked in the face so hard that it knocked my contact out. (PSA: DON’T DO BREASTSTROKE RIGHT AFTER TURNING A BUOY!) I came up yelling a string of swearwords almost immediately. I was worried my race was over right there. What do you do with one contact? After 10 seconds or so, I realized the contact had rolled up in my eye, so I treaded water (and swore a lot) and spent about a minute getting it to come back down and settle, so I could see again. In that time, I realized where all the women had been — in the large pack right behind me. Sigh. When I could see out of both eyes, I put my head down and swam hard to catch them back, and eventually we were done.

I wasn’t wearing a watch and there was no clock at the exit, so I had no idea what I swam. I got my wetsuit off faster than the wetsuit strippers could even get to me, then took off up the ramp — which was the first time during the day I started spontaneously laughing, because the crowds were just so nuts and screaming so loud and I felt like the biggest rockstar. By the time I got through the long transition and all the way down the parking lot to my bike, the clock at the exit said 1:05:40-something, so I thought ‘Holy shit, I must have swum a sub-hour.’ Nope. I swam 1:00:01. Actually, originally the tracker said I swam 1:00:00.1, so, you know, got to save some goal for the next race.

Because I’d thrown up a decent amount of what I’d eaten and drank beforehand, I knew I needed to get something down right away. I had half a Clif bar almost immediately and some water, then started drinking my 900-1000 calorie bottle of Infinit, but it wasn’t sitting great. I felt OK on the way out of Madison to where the countryside loop started, but not good. I passed a couple women, got passed back by one. But my stomach was bothering me and I was NOT in love with the weird bike path, sketchy turns, through parking lots, and on sidewalks at the beginning. About an hour in, I just tore the bag of Immodium off the top of my bike and threw back the two pills and I swear to God that saved my race. Around when we started the loop, I started to feel decent.

Bike, bike, bike.
Bike, bike, bike.

 

A woman passed me about then and I thought I should try to just keep her in sight. I didn’t think I could do it, but eventually I actually caught her again and passed her back. Then, on one of the longer climbs, she passed me again. That sort of set the tone for the next four hours. She would pull so far away that I’d be convinced she had finally totally dropped me, then I would catch her on a long descent and pass her. I’d pull far enough ahead that I thought I’d have pulled away for good, then she caught me when I stopped at Special Needs. It was actually really good to have someone to mentally push off. And a few of the times we were passing each other, especially on the long climbs where everything would sort of accordion together, we would talk briefly for a few seconds. Her name was Kelly too, and she had a huge group of friends on the crazy climb that was Tour de France-esque in the crowds and costumes.

It was actually sort of fun? Maybe. For some parts. At one point, the Ironman video crew rolled up next to me and asked how I felt and I said, “Surprisingly, not that bad.”

The only downside was about two hours in, my derailleur started to make this terrible grinding sound in the middle gears. Um, shit? I tried to see if I could figure out what was wrong, but I had no idea how to fix it, so I just hoped it would last. It got worse and worse as we went, so that by the end it sounded like the whole thing was just going to come apart, and people who went by me were asking about it. But it made it 112 miles, so what are you going to do. I also was not doing an amazing job of handling all the turns and downhills. Turns out, I’m still super stressed about crashing, so I was stupidly cautious. But, I made it through. So, again, what are you going to do.

At some point at the beginning of that first lap, it was evident from the people on the sidelines that the other Kelly and I were in 3rd and 4th. Then we passed the girl in 2nd. (Got passed on the second lap by the woman who would eventually win, and who was flying.) When I hit the climb with the huge crowds and the creepy clowns, who would step out of the corn fields randomly, I was the 2nd woman and people were screaming and going nuts. And I wasn’t going particularly hard up the hill, no point in wasting the energy, so I just sort of soaked it in and laughed. This is insane.

On the way back into Madison, I did start to struggle and hate everything. The other Kelly finally put a few minutes on me. I knew I was doing well overall and it was fine. I had drunk a 900-1000 calorie bottle of Infinit and another similarly caloried bottle of Gu Rocktane, plus lots of water. But I was just so tired of biking. Ugh. I pounded a gel and began the process of talking myself into getting ready to run.

When I handed off my bike to a volunteer, my computer said 5:40-ish, but I hadn’t pressed start for about a minute at the beginning, so I didn’t really know exactly what I had ridden. Whatever. I knew I was “crushing it,” as people kept yelling at me. Then I got to the part of triathlon I am best at: transitions. Ironman transitions are sort of fun (in my opinion), because there’s so many people ready to help you and it’s not like if you screw up and lose 10 seconds everything is over. I tied my shoes, while a volunteer shoved gels in my pocket and turned my Garmin on, and then I was out the door. I had come into T2 4th, but started the run 3rd. And, my total Olympic-distance race mentality took over. I needed to pee and was going to stop, but some deep subconscious part of my brain took over and was like: no, get out of sight of the other Kelly, try to lock up 3rd while you can.

Then I just started running “easy.”

A woman was biking in front of me and after a few minutes I asked her if she was biking for me. Yes! She was! And the crowds were screaming as I came around the capitol building. This is awesome. At that point, I just wanted to hold onto 3rd and run solidly. The clock as I headed out of T2 had said 6:50 I think, so I knew I had a lot of buffer time for an OK overall finish. I also was 95% sure I was going to blow up and need all that buffer.

My bike escort and me. For 16 miles, before I got a new bike escort.
My bike escort and me. For 16 miles, before I got a new bike escort.

 

Here’s what was weird: All during the run and the next morning, people kept telling me how great I looked, how fast a pace I was keeping up, how I could catch the girl ahead. They really all thought that it was easy, I think. But the difference between what they saw on the outside and what was going on inside my head could not have been more drastic. I didn’t feel great; I didn’t want to try to catch the girl ahead; I didn’t think I was running fast. By four or five miles in, I was very worried about how this would end. So I took a gel. Every time I felt terrible, I told myself, “Shut up, eat a gel, keep running.” I think I ate eight gels during the run.

I divided the run up into four 6-mile sections in my head, because of course you can run six miles. You can run one, and you can do that six times. So. The first six I just ran “easy” and tried not go too fast. I did mostly 7:45s/7:50s (except for on the steep hill). The second section I tried to maintain an 8:00/mile pace. That was actually a tough section, because I kept thinking about how I had to do it all again and I didn’t think I’d make it. My legs hurt, hurt, hurt. I did not feel awesome or any of the things people kept yelling at me. The third section I just kept repeating the number one Hillary Biscay rule: DO NOT STOP RUNNING FOR ANY REASON. I think I said that hundreds of times in my head. Do not stop running for ANY reason. I told myself I just needed to make it to 18, and then the last six the rule was ‘do whatever it takes to get to 24, it doesn’t matter how slow, just keep running.’

Sometimes I was clearly enjoying myself:

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And sometimes I was definitely just deep inside my own head:

Screen Shot 2015-09-16 at 6.10.48 PM

Around mile 16 I passed the girl in 2nd and got a new bike lead. I did not really want to pass her. I was totally happy with 3rd, and I didn’t want to have to fight anyone or sprint for anything. I was seriously just trying to keep it together myself. Once I was in 2nd, though, I also did not want to let that go. People were screaming for me. (They get so excited for the top women.) And my name was on my bib, so they kept yelling, “Kelly!” And when I came back by again, they’d cheer “Kelly’s back. Let’s go. You’ve got 2nd now. Come on, Kelly!” And I wasn’t going to let down all these total strangers. Obviously. So I just kept running.

I slowed down that last section of six miles, from 8:00 to 8:20-30, but I kept running. I started drinking Coke at around 19 miles too. But by the time I made it to 24, it was clear that I had a big lead on 3rd and that I was going to run in the 3:30s even if I slowed drastically. Then I really started to enjoy it.

Those last two miles, I high-fived everyone I could and I kept spontaneously laughing. It was just so unbelievable. It didn’t seem like it was me. Me? I usually blow up in situations like this and trudge it in. But not this time. There were a couple section on the run where the road was deeply lined with people, some of whom were college students who had been drinking all day, and they were screaming and screaming for me. And I didn’t know what to do. You just want to jump up and down and wave your arms. Maybe that’s why everyone does the fist pump. It feels right.

IMMOO - finish

I crossed the finish line laughing and laid down a few seconds later, mostly because I had promised myself that I could lay down when I got to the finish. But this made the volunteers very concerned and they swooped in. I told them I was fine, and it was agreed I was fine, but I should sit down and drink some water. I pounded the water, because I was way too thirsty, which made me start throwing up everywhere, which concerned the volunteers even more. And that’s how I ended up in the med tent. The only problem was my veins had shrunken up and they couldn’t get an IV in right, so some of it went into my arm muscles and not my veins (ugh). I got a big bruise as an extra token from the race, along with all the random cuts and sunburn and soreness.

But it was totally worth it.

The Dipsea: Just Go Hard

dipsea

This is a picture of me looking weirdly cheerful at the Dipsea yesterday. I’m pretty sure it was just after this that I ran full-speed into a thorn bush. I’ve been pulling pieces of thorn out of my hand since then.

That’s actually sort of normal for the Dipsea. The part that wasn’t normal was that I was even on the “trail” that led me into the thorn bush. Since I was going faster than I have before, I ended up sort of ahead of the pack and all of a sudden I was on some “shortcut” through a bush down a mountainside. The other thing that wasn’t normal was how good I felt. I did the best I’ve ever done (108th), but I pretty much never had a “I just want to quit and cry” moment. I mostly felt really good. When we were climbing, I just kept climbing. When anything was close to flat, I ran hard. And when it was downhill, I — well, ok, I lost a lot of time running down stairs, but still, I tried hard.

Do you remember when every race report of mine was basically: “And then I felt terrible and I wanted to quit and I threw myself a pity party, but eventually I finished.” No? Well, I remember. (See: Dipsea 2014, 2013, 2012, or probably mostly anything here.)

Something has shifted recently, in just my last few races, and I don’t know if anyone else can tell but I can. The difference is that I’ve been mostly totally in it mentally. I thought that a shift had happened back in the fall. It seemed like I was toughing it out better than usual. But, since the disaster that was the LA Marathon, in which I learned that I can push it farther than I probably should, and the Cal Poly race a week later, in which I learned that I can do things even when I really really don’t want to, since then I’ve sort of been determined just to go as hard as I can and make it work.

So, yes, the Dipsea sort of sucks and is crazy. But mostly it was fun. I ran hard. I cracked into the top 100, but then I lost those spots on the downhill stairs. I didn’t fall (badly) and my legs hurt today. When you decided to just go hard and not stress about anything else, there isn’t much to say…

Race Report: Collegiate Nationals

Last Wednesday afternoon, 25 of us flew to Atlanta and then drove to Clemson, South Carolina. We raced Saturday, in the rain, and then flew back Sunday morning. You would think that being in Clemson for four days with nothing but a two-hour race to do, there would have been some free time.

Hah.

USA Triathlon Collegiate Nationals was fun and exhausting and insanely competitive and maybe what it was and what USA Triathlon thinks it was are not exactly the same thing. But that’s another topic.

Short version: I raced harder than I have in a while. Maybe since Alcatraz last year (though IM Canada was a different kind of hard). Saturday, I swam and I biked hard and then I hung on during the run and tried not to throw up before the finish line. And it almost all came together for a really crazy good day. Instead, it was just a good day, which I’m still very happy with, and I finished 17th in 2:16.

Long version: It was pouring on Saturday morning. And the boys raced first (in the downpour). That meant I ended up with four hours to kill in the rain. We went and slept in the car for a little bit, turned on the heater some, and tried to eat enough for all the extra time but not so much that we threw up. I was struggling with this last thing. By the time we finally did start at 10:40 a.m., I was hungry, but also had been gagging on everything I tried to eat. Basically, I was not dealing well with the anticipation of the hurt that was to come. Even if you know you do better in the rain and when conditions suck, that doesn’t mean you’re going to enjoy it.

And, even with all those hours, I still managed to lose my timing chip and had to run to get to the start on time. Naturally. (Side note: If you sprint up to the officials’ tent, wearing a sweatshirt and a gold skirt over running tights, and gasp out “Ilostmytimingchip,” they really won’t know what to do.)

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The swim start was awful. I’m pretty sure collegiate swim starts are what give me nightmares about triathlon. It was insanely aggressive and there was nowhere to go when the people behind you and the people next to you decided that you were the only thing between them and their dreams of glory. Eventually, it calmed down a little bit. And, then, I just swam hard. I would have told you that I always swim hard and that I didn’t feel like I was swimming any harder this time. In fact, I had no idea if I was sucking or doing great. It turns out that in the past, apparently, I have not been swimming as hard as I could have. I came out of the water in 23:15ish, which was really fast for the day, and put me pretty high up (for me) going into the bike.

There’s some kind of lesson here, but I don’t really know what I did differently other than not even a little breaststroke.

My real goal for the day was to bike hard. I have not been killing it on my bike lately, so I wanted to put in a really solid effort. It stopped raining for the girls race, so it was just overcast (which is great) and cool-ish (for South Carolina). But, when I put my head down to get to work, I couldn’t find anything. I was up and down, all over the place that first lap. I got passed by some girls, which doesn’t usually happen that early, but I suppose it was a result of swimming faster than usual. I had a gel and tried to drink some and hoped I could will the legs to come around. Eventually, they sort of did. My second and third laps were stronger, with the last lap actually feeling the best and, by then, I was edge of throwing up, so I figured that meant I was going pretty hard.

It turned out, though, that all my laps were pretty evenly split, so it may have all been in my head. It also got more crowded those last laps, so it might have just been easier mentally to pick people off. Either way, I biked a fairly strong 1:07:45ish and my head told me I was doing pretty good.

Apparently, I decided to do a trackstand in the middle of the race?
Apparently, I decided to do a trackstand in the middle of the race?

Originally, I had thought I’d get through the swim, move up on the bike, and then pick off some more places on the run. But doing better on the swim-bike meant there just weren’t that many more places I was capable of moving up on the run. Maybe that’d be different if I could run a 37. But, I can’t (for now…). Instead, I was killing myself to simply maintain position.

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The run was an out and back. They called it two laps, but you had to go back and forth twice each lap, so it was really basically four laps. Every one of those there was a long false flat hill we went up and then down. I started out right on the heels of two very fast runners and by halfway through the first lap I realized they weren’t opening up the gap on me (which meant I must be running pretty good) and I was just hanging off a big pack of girls that included 10th, but I also realized vomit was coming up the back of my throat. It was getting very muggy at that point and I became seriously concerned about my ability to complete the course.

I’m not sure what I thought about then. It’s sort of a blur. But I think the middle of the run was one of the few times on the day I sort of lost focus. Eventually, I realized that I was only having to swallow vomit on the uphill sections and that I was making up time on the downhills, so it was easier to get through then. Also, there were so many people on course the second lap, I had no idea who was ahead and who was behind.

On the last uphill, with a half-mile to go, someone said that a girl was coming up on me. I literally mouthed, “Fuck.” What did I have left to give? I tried to pick it up some and, as I got closer, everyone was yelling that she was coming and I needed to go. I picked it up more. I made the sharp turn onto the grass, through a mud pit, another sharp turn in what was a bog by then, and I was full-on as hard as I could go. I made it across the finish line, fell over, and threw up a little bit. It took me a few minutes to get off the ground.

It was ugly and it was rough, but I’m pretty sure that I could not have gone any harder on Saturday. And that’s really all you can ask of yourself.

The day before it started raining. Everyone actually did well too, and I wish they would tell us how we placed, because I think it wasn't bad.
The day before it started raining. Everyone actually did well too, and I wish they would tell us how we placed, because I think it wasn’t bad.

What Does It Feel Like to Go Hard?

Sunday I raced the West Coast Collegiate Triathlon Conference championship in San Luis Obispo. Because I am a moron and I thought why not follow-up one of your most debilitating non-finishes with 30-40 hours straight of thesis work, complete emotional and mental fatigue, and then an Olympic-distance triathlon.

The race was fine. Whatever.

I almost threw up at the start simply from the overwhelming desire to not do it. But then I did it anyway. Needless to say it was not my most amazing effort ever.

During the race, though, I actually felt like I was keeping it together. I felt like I was mentally totally in it. When I got out of it for a little bit, I came back. I felt like I was redlining and going as hard as I could, which was my only real goal. Since I had no knowledge of the course and no real computer or anything on my bike and it seemed slow and windy, I was just going off that feel. The only problem is that my “feel” is all messed up.

It turned out that what “felt” like redlining as-hard-as-I-could-go pace, was really more like moderately hard pace. This occurred to me about two-thirds through the bike when I started getting passed. Then I tried to go harder, but I’m still sort of a mess about twisty steep descents on my bike, so that didn’t go great. It’s not that I’m consciously trying to be conservative on descents; it’s just that subconsciously my brain is screaming, “NO MORE FAKE TEETH!

That my feel might not be accurate occurred to me again just before the turnaround on the run. The girl who was winning was on her way back and I looked as her as she went by, 10 minutes ahead of me or whatever stupid ungodly amount I was behind her and seven other girls by. She won collegiate nationals last year and she’s definitely a fast runner, but she was also so clearly trying so much harder than I was. I “felt” like I was running hard and strong and keeping a high cadence and could not possibly go any harder, but she looked like she might keel over before she reached the finish. (I was going to put a picture of her in here, but that seemed pseudo-creepy. Suffice it to say that she, generally, looks like she’s killing herself on the run.) Yeah, she probably is a more talented runner than I am. Even at the same effort, she would probably still be faster than me. But, we weren’t even at the same effort. She was pushing herself so much harder than I was. And that’s probably what really separates people: how hard you can push yourself.

For comparison, here is a picture of me as I sprinted my 7-minute mile into the finish and tried to not throw up:

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Side note: There was another different sprint race going on at the same time, hence the woman behind me who is clearly not of college age.

That doesn’t look like I might keel over does it? It looks like I’m trying hard, but not that hard.

So I’m on a personal mission now to re-remember what hard feels like. Granted my whole perception last week was distorted because, oh man, I was really messed up after the two-thirds-of-a-marathon, and I didn’t run at all between the lying down on the side of the road last Sunday and the pre-race warm-up this Sunday. But still. If I’m going to go through the trouble of racing and being in a bunch of pain anyway, I might as well really make it hurt.